Review: “OlliOlli2”on March 19, 2015 at 8:00 am
I had a brief (but very passionate) relationship with the “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater” franchise when it was new. I explored every inch of it with the same fervor, enthusiasm, and ineptitude that an overly excited virgin does with their first sex partner. I was not a very graceful lover, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying myself.
Of course, in this scenario, it didn’t matter if Tony was having fun, because Tony was a video game. I didn’t have to apologize to it for my “baby deer standing up for the first time” style of lovemaking. It accepted me, taught me, and allowed me to improve as it slowly added more complex techniques to our sessions.
But the hotter the flame, the quicker it burns. I quickly grew disinterested in Tony. In fact, by the time the fourth game came out, the fire had already become a smoldering ember. It was at that point we parted ways. There were some brief one night stands after that, but it was never the same. I was looking for something different. Something Tony no longer offered.
Also, Tony was a bit of a whore. The mechanics introduced in those games became something of a video game fad during that time. Tony was sleeping around… a lot. And I didn’t really care what kind of parentless latchkey kids it left in its debaucherous wake.
As virile as Tony may have been at one point, its status as a sexual tyrannosaurus was eventually stripped. Tony became fat, bloated, and impotent. Probably the Moutain Dew; that stuff is toxic. Or the STDs Tony picked up once it started getting bootlegged in China.
Today, Tony isn’t really up to much. Neither are any of its illegitimate children. I think they squat in time shares when people aren’t in them.
My time pining after skateboarding games was over. A phase of my life I outgrew; only having the sweet memories of a young, taut Tony to occasionally stir my heart. On occasion, I’ll fleetingly remember the time when Tony and I first met. It was the Playstation Underground demo disc. We spent all of that first night together. Goldfinger’s “Superman” was forever our song. A reminder of what used to be, but can never be again.
At least, that’s what I thought.
Last year, developer Roll7 came out with a game called “OlliOlli”, and it was very good. I played quite a bit of it. However, its impact on the gaming scene was muffled by the fact that it was originally only available on the Vita. Then, when it finally came to consoles, it was still too obscure to get anybody to bother. “OlliOlli” just wasn’t sexy enough.
I think that has changed with the release of “OlliOlli2: Welcome to Olliwood”, though. And that’s partially due to two facts:
- It’s free for PS Plus members right now. RIGHT. NOW. You have no excuses not to try it out if you own a Sony system.
- More importantly, it’s a MUCH better game than the original.
“OlliOlli” is a 2D skateboarding game. Each stage is a downhill jam full of tricky jumps, special grinds to find, items to collect, and crap to avoid hitting. Basically, everything that Tony was, but flatter; more arcadey, and faster paced.
Oh, and a lot fucking harder.
Before we get into that, let’s talk about the basics. See, this is another way in which “OlliOlli” is similar to Tony. When Tony first skated onto the scene, there was no other game that featured controls like it. “OlliOlli” is the same exact way, though the controls are different. It communicates with you an entirely new manner. This means you have to learn a new language that is entirely counter-intuitive to anything you’ve ever seen before.
It’s not that the controls are complicated. Actually, they’re very simple. You only use one analog stick, the ‘X’ button, and two of the shoulder buttons. It’s what you DO with them that’s hard to get used to.
You have to hold the analog stick down, in any direction, and then let go to jump. Flick it in various quarter-circle, half-circle, or other fighting game motions to pull tricks out of that. Holding down the shoulder buttons while tricking will make you do more advanced tricks. While in the air, holding down a shoulder button will spin you. To grind, just press any direction you want on a rail. Do this while pressing a shoulder button at the same time to do cooler grinds. Then, when you find the ground, press X to land without faceplanting.
We’re not done yet. You need to time things properly, as well. Getting perfect grinds and landings helps you keep your momentum, ensuring you can keep moving at a good pace. Also, it helps out your score, since your multiplier will go up more.
The concept is easy to learn, incredibly difficult to get used to, but is immensely satisfying to play once you do. It just flows so well. Achieving mastery of this technique is a daunting task. Mastery that you’ll probably attempt, since the game is so fun, but you most likely won’t achieve.
The structure of the game is broken down into what is, essentially, something like a micro-platformer. You have lots of very short stages, but ones bursting with compact skateboarding joy. Simply getting to the finish line will unlock the next stage, but that’s not the end goal of the game.
Each stage also has five objectives to complete. Two of these objectives are static, being a high score challenge and a multiplier challenge. The other three vary wildly, offering up collectibles to find, special gaps, grinds, certain trick combinations, or even things like comboing entire levels or figuring out how to finish a stage without grinding or pushing.
These objectives offer a ton of variety to the game and ensure that you’re not always going to be playing the game the same way. Plus, once you complete all five, you’ll unlock the Pro Mode of that stage, which is completely different and offers up another set of five objectives. Oh, and it’s much harder.
Also, once you finish a stage, you’ll unlock that stage’s Spot, which is a condensed section of the stage where you’re tasked with getting as high a score as possible with one combo.
Then, if you really want to prove to yourself how bad you are at the game, you can try your hand at the Daily Grind, which is a fresh Spot that changes every 24 hours. The catch here is that while you can practice it all you want, you only get one shot to set a score on the leaderboard. ONE. Fail when it really counts and you will be immortalized with a score of naught. But, don’t worry, there will probably be thousands of others that share your pain. It’s nerve wracking.
The WAY you play this game is going to evolve as you get better. When you first start out, you’re going to be struggling with the controls and mostly playing the game like a platformer. You can have a ton of fun with the game and be suitably challenge by just treating it like one.
Once you start coming to grips with the skateboarding mechanics, you’ll start to figure out how to increase your score. This transforms the game from a platformer to an arcadey “Tony Hawk”. You’ll start to tackle all of the Amateur objectives and, while you may come across some rough patches, you’ll eventually succeed and you’ll feel confident and powerful.
So confident, that you’ll start going back to earlier stages and murdering your previous scores. So confident, that you’ll easily be able to combo entire levels in a strangely addictive melange of gracefulness, technique, and badassery. So confident, that you’ll be squeezing in spins whenever possible and doing as much trick variety as possible to boost your score even higher. So confident, that you’ll think you’re ready to challenge Pro Mode.
Do you really think you’re ready? Look at ‘em. They think they’re ready.
You’re not ready.
“OlliOlli2” is not Mr. Miyagi. It does not have you paint fences, houses, and sand floors to trick you into learning its techniques. There are no subtle muscle memory shortcuts to getting better at the game. You not only have to want it, but you have to dedicate yourself to wanting it. You have to be willing to destroy an analog stick to get good at this game. It’s so demanding and brutal that the rubber is coming off on mine. I mean, it’s like a black snow is falling from my fingertips.
And you know what? YOU KNOW WHAT?! Pro Mode is hard. It is. It’s going to seem like an unachieveable dream for a little bit and it is. You may even find yourself, one day, beating all of the objectives. Your reward for doing so? Oh, to be so naive and to think you’re rewarded for such a ridiculous task.
There is no reward. There is only more pain. Because if you complete every Amateur and Pro objective, you unlock RAD Mode. Now, I only know the legends surrounding this game mode; but I can imagine it’s… soul destroying? Probably.
I’m not sure. See, I’m not good enough to get that far. However, I take solace in the fact that almost nobody is good enough to get that far. Looking at the leaderboards and trophy data, it’s not something that has been achieved by many people. I mean, just going by these statistics, I’m in the top 1% on the leaderboards and I’ve reached a point in the game, and trophies tell me this, that only .1% of players have reached.
By these measures, I am exceptional; but by the game’s measures, I’m… I’m…
I’m fucking worthless.
And the thing is, “OlliOlli2” does the same amazing feat that “Tony Hawk 2” did, in that it completely blows the first game out of the water. The amount of flow and flexibility each of these sequels offered over their predecessor makes for an astonishingly improved experience, almost making the original game obsolete.
I haven’t mentioned this yet, but “OlliOlli2” gives the player manuals, reverts, and grind switching. Three more things jammed into this control scheme that has been compacted into a tiny cube of dark matter. Small, but soooo heavy. And since this empowers the player even more, the game expects that much more out of you.
To truly be good at “OlliOlli2”, you have to be so dextrous, so focused, so in-tune with how this game functions that there isn’t a single moment in a stage where you aren’t doing tricks and increasing your multiplier. You don’t repeat a single flip trick or grind. You don’t miss a single perfect landing or grind. You find every single frame you can get away with doing something and then you do it, stage, after stage, after stage, after stage.
You do not finish “OlliOlli2” by being good at the game. You do not finish it by rote memorization. There are no cheap tactics or shortcuts to victory. There is no difficulty selector. You either have it, or you don’t.
Luckily, even if you don’t have it, it’s still a ton of fun to play, no matter what your skill level is. You just have to know where you limits are and quit there, otherwise it will frustrate you. The game doesn’t want to frustrate you. It wants you to relax, oddly enough. It knows that it’s hard. It does. But it does everything in its power to keep you calm and engaged.
It does this with its objective structure and allowing you to bounce around however much you want and try as many things as you feel you’re ready for. It does this by feeling REALLY GOOD to combo entire levels and best your high score. The game is positively oozing umami. It especially does this with its soundtrack, which is the polar opposite of “Tony Hawk”.
“Tony Hawk” prided itself on fast and loud punk rock. I loved it. You needed to get pumped up? The game had you covered. I had specific songs in those games that, whenever they came on, I knew I could do anything.
“OlliOlli2”? Nope. Try smooth jazz and trip hop. Soulful, downbeat ambiance. That’s what you get and it’s the perfect complement to the infuriating trials you’re going to endure. It’s meditative and allows your mind to wander off, while your body takes over. With your mind relaxed, your body is free to take everything it’s learned and apply it to achieving all of your “OlliOlli” dreams.
Well, as long as your dreams don’t involve going to the top of the leaderboards. And, remember how I said there were no shortcuts or cheap tactics? Eh, that’s not true, at the moment. I discovered a glitch that allows you to get your multiplier up to insane heights with almost no effort. I’m not going to explain how to activate the glitch, but it is extremely easy to replicate, if you know how.
Now, while I know that not all of the people playing the game are using this, it is being used. It’s not only muddying the leaderboards, but it’s trivializing the entire challenge of the game. It’s sad, but such is the plight of the online gamer. People will do whatever it takes to win, even if it means they don’t even play the game.
I contacted the developers immediately upon finding this, which wasn’t even 24 hours after the game was released, and they are working on patching it out. I don’t know if they’re going to reset the leaderboards or not. I know a lot of people have put a lot of really hard work into their scores, but some of them are absolutely ridiculous and it’s clear some amount of cheating is going on.
It really undermines the stunning effort Roll7 did to make the game and it also undermines the achievement of people finally accomplishing the game’s most taxing tasks.
Also, the game isn’t exactly perfect.
I’m not going to pretend that their control scheme is perfect, even after you get used to it. There is so much you’re doing with so little that you will find yourself starting to wonder why they don’t use more of the buttons. Of course, if they did, I think it might be even harder to control, but the game doesn’t always feel like it’s properly registering the flicks, so doing specific tricks under specific circumstances can be a hit or miss affair unless you’re SUPER precise.
The same goes for doing more advanced tricks using the shoulder buttons. Since they’re also used to spin your character in the air, if you use them at the wrong time, you’ll end up spinning, instead of activating your trick. This will often cause you to wipeout, ending your run.
Even though the game is very generous and lets you press △ to instantly restart a stage, it also means it’s really easy to accidentally restart a stage during the hectic frenzy of trying to flail your fingers around the pad quick enough to input everything.
These are minor complaints against an otherwise great game.
But, the real question is, does it make me lust for it the way I used to lust after Tony?
It’s because “OlliOlli2” plays so hard to get, that I’m intimidated by it. I can only keep up for so long before it wears me out. Olli just isn’t as generous and caring of a lover as Tony. I don’t lust after Olli in the same way. Olli only gives so much before it asks a lot more in return.
Olli is fantastic and a few people are going to be so enamored and overcome with feelings of giddy hornitude that they’ll get as much out of it as I got from Tony. I know they will, because Olli has so much to offer to those willing to truly dedicate themselves to it.
Me, though? That phase of my life really has passed. But man, I still appreciate Olli for giving me a chance. It’s been a wild ride, but Olli is a beast I cannot tame. Nor do I even want to.
My poor analog stick can’t take anymore abuse.